All Hail Rome?

Scott Hoezee

Read: Luke 2:1-3

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. (v. 1)

A decree went out. From Caesar. That’s what world leaders do: they issue decrees and the world scrambles to comply. Caesar says, “Jump!” and the world responds, “How high?” When Luke opens his Gospel, he notes that he has done a thorough job researching everything so he can set forth a very detailed, historically accurate, orderly account. So it’s no surprise that in this chapter and again in Luke 3 we get a list of then-current political rulers. That’s the kind of historical detail you’d expect from a man who has done his research well.

But is that all Luke is up to? Is he merely nailing down the date for Jesus’ birth? Not at all! Luke is engaging in a little tongue-in-cheek irony. Yes, the census Caesar ordered is what got Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, but Luke could have told us that without listing all those names. But he lists them as a way to draw a contrast.

On one side: all-powerful rulers who make the world shudder by their decrees. On the other side: a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a goat’s feed bunk. The irony is that all the power in the universe was not in Rome like everyone thought. It was in a manger. Caesar could rule the world, but he could not save it. Instead, the very power of creation and salvation was somehow contained in that feed trough! Ah, the Advent mystery! —Scott Hoezee

Prayer: For the mystery of your power wrapped in swaddling clothes, we praise you! Amen.